Thirteen years and thirty-five seconds for Haiti
A brief remembrance of the January 12, 2010, earthquake
I do not know how long the earthquake was. Time is a function of space. When space itself is dislodged — all that is perceivable moves backward, upward, upside down — how can one measure seconds or minutes? It felt like no time and all time. Somewhere, inside me, the Earth is still moving that way.
On the Gregorian calendar at least, today, January 12, marks thirteen years since the ground moved and the cities fell. Lucky thirteen. Sh’losh esrei. Even this approximation is an approximation: the moment marked by most of us who were on that ground will come this afternoon, at 4:53 p.m. (and 10 seconds, according to the empire). Looking back, we can say that was the moment our houses, offices, and shelters began to crack apart, cars started rolling down (or was it up?) hill, mountains began colliding into valleys, etc.
Similarly, no one knows how many had died before the shaking stopped. Some say 316,000. Some say 46,000 or 85,000 or 158,679. It was a lot. It was more people than most people will ever know in a lifetime, however long those go. It was more than were ever known to die in an earthquake on this side of the planet before, and far more than in any earthquake since (cross fingers, spit, knock on wood).
The survivors had the rougher time of it, or those who made it out of those first dazed minutes after. Millions lost their homes and had to make new ones. Some with passports or the money for it tried to leave immediately. Most stayed (I stayed). But eventually, in the years after, even many of those of us who had stayed gave up and did their best to leave (I left). Some made it across that leg of the journey. Others didn’t (or did and got sent back).
For those still in Haiti, life has gotten perpetually worse since the earthquake, in ways that were foreseeable and yet have been unbearable to witness. “Chaque jour, depuis le 12 janvier 2010, un nouveau secteur est affecté, une nouvelle zone est frappée, un pan du pays s’enfonce,” writes the editor of Haiti’s biggest newspaper today (well, yesterday): “Every day since January 12, 2010, a new sector is affected, a new zone hit, a new area of the country sinks down.” There was even another earthquake, bigger, yet smaller, if that makes sense. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t make sense.)
Anyway, I’ve already gone on too long. My intention was to write something that would take as long to read as the earthquake itself, as it would have been perceived from outside, but that mark passed before the end of the second paragraph. And again in the space since “For those still in Haiti ….” Can you imagine so much changing, ending, beginning, in such a space of time? That is why we remember.